Remember When George Michael Woke Up With a New Voice?

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George Michael may have stunned audiences when he flawlessly mirrored the vocal chops of Freddie Mercury at a tribute concert for the late Queen frontman at Wembley Stadium in 1992, but perhaps even more shocking was the time Michael, who would have been 56 years old today, awoke from a three-week coma channeling someone else’s voice—kind of.

The London-born music icon, who passed away on Christmas three years ago, experienced a rare case of Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS) after a tumultuous battle with pneumonia, which left him with muscular atrophies and a brand new—albeit temporary—West Country accent in late 2011. “[The nursing staff was] worried I had this condition where people wake from comas speaking French or some other language,” he said. “Mine was two days of this vague Bristolian accent and they were afraid I’d have it for life. There’s nothing wrong with a West Country accent, but it’s a bit weird when you’re from North London.”

According neurologists at the University of Texas at Dallas, FAS is actually a bit of a misnomer: The curious condition, which was first reported in 1907 and has affected less than 100 people since then, is a byproduct of damage to the parts of the brain that control linguistic functions, causing speech patterns and pronunciation of syllables to become distorted. In other words, while one may seem to have adopted a new and baffling “foreign” accent, it’s really just a sudden combination of small yet noticeable alterations in dialogues. Such a difference in speech is perceived as being “foreign,” hence the name. While FAS is poorly understood and research remains fairly shoddy and insufficient, cases are often aggressively covered in media, especially on shock-value shows like Inside Edition, Dr. Phil, and Mystery ER.

The former Wham! singer’s mysterious new accent eventually disappeared, and so did his pneumonia, though he had to learn to walk again and also lost several weeks of his memory. Still, just two months after leaving the hospital, Michael appeared at the Brit Awards in 2012 to present fellow British musician Adele with the award for Best British Album. The next month, he embarked on tour—his last—and performed in his hometown of London for his final hurrah. While his health steadily deteriorated the years before his death, he continued blessing the world with music, releasing his seventh solo album, Symphonica, in 2014, and collaborating with musicians like Naughty Boy and Nile Rodgers.

Michael’s passing was a loss felt ‘round the world, especially within the music, fashion, and LGBTQ communities, the latter of which was dear to his heart (he was both a campaigner for gay rights and a charity fundraiser for HIV/AIDS). A devout philanthropist, Michael used his platform as one of the best-selling artists of all time to help raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia, terminally ill children, and cancer patients. Perhaps most admirable was Michael’s commitment to secrecy in his charitable endeavors: After he died, numerous charities revealed that he had been privately involved in them for years.

As for the famous words Michael uttered upon regaining consciousness: “I’m king of the world.” Wrong accent, maybe, but proper sentiment.

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